Monday, September 28, 2009

The Ongoing Torture Annoyance

I keep reading about all of this torture business, and I find many aspects of it totally annoying.

For one thing, it all seems so half-hearted. Confining someone in a box with lots of insects? Come on, they do that on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” The viewing public seems to find it entertaining, and the celebrities find it merely annoying.

Water-boarding, wall-slamming, forced nudity, stress postures, sleep deprivation, let’s face it, theatricality aside, this stuff won’t get you very far. Those were the authorized tortures.

Then there’s the unauthorized stuff, the “improvised, inhumane and undocumented” stuff, like threatening with a gun, or a power drill, mock executions, and unverified threats against the subject’s family. What a failure of imagination! Anybody that stuff would work on is probably too stupid to know anything anyway.

The perpetrators of these annoyances watch too much TV, too many awful movies staring Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme. They suffer from a common Twenty-First Century delusion: the inability to separate fantasy from reality.

The worst part, definitely, is the very poor likelihood of success, being defined as actually getting good cooperation from someone who actually knows something. They’ll get a gunsel to tell you where the car is parked pretty damn quick, but a motivated, sophisticated opponent holding important information could play those games forever.

You may be surprised to discover my position vis-à-vis torture. I’m not 100% against it 100% of the time. I can’t think of any likely scenarios right now, but I’m sure it happens that a low-functioning subject may possess some knowledge that you absolutely need to know right this second, for reasons greater than convenience. In that case, let him have it, and both barrels too, none of this namby-pamby stuff. Make the sign of the cross and give him the full treatment, quickly and quietly (or more accurately, ‘soundproofedly’). Just don’t get caught. Make sure that no one knows that you have them, and that when you’re done he or she disappears more thoroughly than Judge Crater or Jimmy Hoffa.

Most of the time, the subject has or may have information that you want, sooner better than later. So why alienate the subject with macho theatrics that just confirm his bad impression of you? You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. And perhaps, as is usually the case, the Romans had it right, a big carrot, big stick approach works very well. The Romans offered people a clear choice: choose either number one, we leave you in charge, make you rich, make your entire land prosperous, and provide luxury for your families and a Roman education for your aristocratic children, or number two, we torture and kill all of the men and some of the boys in your land, make slaves out of all of your women and the rest of the children, destroy all of the buildings in your land and every manifestation of your culture, and give the remaining farmland to one of our allies or to our retiring soldiers. That’s a quick pick right there, number one every time, every single fucking time.

Some of our own interrogators know this as well as I do. They have achieved good results by getting to know their subjects, finding out what is important to them, and then offering it to them, and, if accepted, delivering it. Subjects respond to this kind of treatment readily, as long as the benefits are concrete and visible, verifiable and desirable. I have a hunch that the water-boarding lunatics think that these “nice guys” are weak sisters, punks at best and sympathizers at worst. They’re on the beam though. That’s the way to get somewhere in the applying-pressure business.

(Facts and some quotes from “The Torture Memos: The Case Against the Lawyers.” New York Review of Books, Vol. 56, Number 15, October 8, 2009, available at their web site free!)


Anonymous said...

A headshrinker might just be the cure.

fred c said...

Shrinks might be good, use their skills to find out what people are about and what is important to them. Or Gypsy fortune tellers, if properly trained, they can read nuance and body language as good as anybody. Fresh faced newly minted graduates of Joe College out in kick-stump could be a disarming choice. I haven't worked out the details.

Anonymous said...

Devil's in the details.

Anonymous said...

Torture? Never. I think we executed Japanese (at least imprisoned) after WWII for waterboarding in POW camps. Can you sy "double standard"?

fred c said...

Officially? never; wrong? always; just to gather information? never; with the single best reason in the world, once in a thousand years? maybe, just this once.

There are no absolutes in this world. Everything is situational.

Morality aside, torture as a historical practice has never worked, and has generally made matters worse. So we have no reason to even get to the right/wrong question, the answer to which is, of course, "wrong."